Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stepping out of the boat

I am somewhat behind on my reading, which may explain why I have not previously seen this article from Megan McArdle in Time (thanks to my husband for the pointer).

McArdle talks about the importance of safe failure to the economy. In fact she says, "failure is one of the most economically important tools we have". She bemoans the fact that, "instead of celebrating all our successes in building systems that fail well, we've become wedded to the fantasy of a system that doesn't fail at all."

Isn't it interesting how the very things we have been saying in respect of learning and education are being said here about the American economy? And it's hardly surprising, really. If we create an education system that stigmatises failure, we can only expect that that stigma will carry over into all other arenas of life... including the economy. It's all linked. It's all part of the one thing, the big picture.

I'm with McArdle when she says, "rather than launch a quixotic war on failure, we should be using what we've learned to build a system that fails better". We should be adopting this approach to education, too. The only people who never fail are the people who never do anything. We should be stigmatising never doing anything.

This puts me in mind of the story of Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14). Preachers often use this story to illustrate weakness, lack of faith, etc. I tend to think, hang about a bit... what about the eleven losers in the boat who didn't even try? Peter tried. Sure, he failed after a few steps, but he had an experience none of the others could claim... because he gave it a shot. We need a few more Peters, I reckon!

Let's be about encouraging people to step out of the boat, and about catching them when they start to sink.


Adryen Willis said...

Hear, hear!

As an HR Manager I have seen this stigma carried into the work force, by both the employer and employee.

I was taught as a child that much can be learned from failure and that it shows you were willing to try, which leads one to assume that it "should" be a positive experience.

However, the reality of adulthood is that we are judged and punished for our failures and worse than that, we are not given the opportunity to learn from them.

The upsycho said...

@Adryen Your first comment, here, I believe. Welcome aboard.

You're right about the repercussions of failure. That is exactly what I am objecting to. How many times do the tales tell us that Edison failed? But our whole assessment system at school sets the tone for this.

See my related post about this subject here.

Rina said...

No words! This is a beautiful piece of writing. Brought me sunshine and hope! Thanks for writing and all these posts here.